An elderly Thai woman smiling

Like the United States and Europe, the Asia-Pacific Region Is Experiencing Low Fertility and Population Aging

As the Asia-Pacific region's population shifts due to low fertility and their societies age, women especially may face specific challenges tied to factors like their health, financial resources, and caregiving responsibilities.

Low fertility and population aging are driving unprecedented demographic shifts in the Asia-Pacific region.1 As these shifts occur and societies age, they will have an overarching impact on people. Women especially may face specific challenges unless policies are in place to support them.

In October 2023, PRB teamed up with the UNFPA Asia and the Pacific Regional Office to brief the media on these changes and how policies that support girls and women throughout their lives can contribute to thriving aging populations.

Fertility in the Asia-Pacific region changed significantly in just 50 years.

  • In 1970, Japan was the only country in the Asia-Pacific region with replacement fertility. All other countries had fertility above replacement level. (Replacement fertility is the number of children couples need to have to replace themselves in the population. It is typically considered to be 2.1 children per woman for industrialized countries.)
  • Twenty years later, in 1990, only two other countries in the region had joined Japan with fertility at or below replacement level: South Korea and Thailand.
  • By 2022, 15 countries had replacement or below-replacement fertility, in some cases far below replacement.

And more change is coming. By 2050—less than three decades from now—nearly all countries in the region are projected to have below-replacement fertility. (See Figure 1.)

FIGURE 1. Most Asia-Pacific Countries Are Projected to Have Below-Replacement Fertility by 2050

Map of East Asia with the following countries colored to indicate that they expect to have below-replacement fertility rates: China, Dem. People's Republic of Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Republic of Korea, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Islamic Republic of Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Viet Nam, Fiji, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, Palau, Tokelau, Taiwan, and Singapore. The following countries are not marked as being projected to have at or below-replacement fertility rates: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, The Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Samoa, The Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.


The below-replacement fertility that’s widespread across the region today happened fast. In 1970, before fertility declined, all but five countries in the region had a total fertility rate of 5 or more children per woman. (The total fertility rate, or TFR, is the average number of children a woman would have during her lifetime given current fertility rates.) In 2022, most countries in the region had seen their TFR decline by three or more children per woman. (See Figure 2.)

FIGURE 2. Average Lifetime Births in Nearly All Asia-Pacific Countries Decreased from 5 or More Children per Woman to 3 or More Children Between 1970 and 2022
Total Fertility Rate (Lifetime births per woman)

Bar chart of the total fertility rate (lifetime births per woman) for all Asia-Pacific countries in 2022 (also faintly displaying bars for 1970 for comparison). Bar heights now vary from country to country but it's clear that all have significantly decreased from 1970.


The share of older adults in the region is increasing relative to younger age groups because people are having fewer children. The regional average for Asia Pacific’s share of older adults increased from 4% to 10% between 1970 and 2023, and it’s projected to increase to 19% by 2050.

The region’s absolute number, or the actual number, of older adults is also growing rapidly. Since 1970, the population of older adults in the Asia-Pacific region increased from 77 million to 435 million. This rapid increase is driven by two main factors:

  1. Larger groups of people who were born when fertility rates were higher are entering older ages.
  2. Mortality has declined, so older adults are living longer.

If that sounds like a lot, it is! Older adults are the fastest-growing segment of the global population, and the Asia-Pacific region has the highest growth in the world. Since 1970, the region’s older population grew nearly six-fold, compared to four-fold globally. (See Figure 3.)

FIGURE 3. The Number of Older Adults in Asia Pacific Has Increased at the World’s Highest Rate
Population ages 65 and older (in billions)

Area map showing population growth in Asia Pacific, Europe, Americas, Africa, and Others from 1970 to 2050.


The extent of growth varies across countries in Asia Pacific, but the overall trend is similar.

Here are two facts that put the magnitude of this growth into context:

  1. By mid-2040, Asia Pacific will have more older adults ages 65 and older compared to children and youth under age 15. This is a historic marker we’ve never crossed before.
  2. By 2050, 1 in 10 people in the world will be older adults from Asia Pacific, up from 1 in 50 in 1970.

How do we plan for an aging future? In part by considering the composition of this older population and their needs.

Older age groups will be comprised of more women than men simply because women have longer life expectancies than men. This is particularly the case the older one gets: Even more women will comprise the group of adults ages 85 and older than ages 65 and older. So, when we talk about population aging, we’re talking about a population that’s becoming more female.

What are their needs?

Compared to men, women ages 65 and older have:

  • Higher morbidity. Women not only live longer than men, they are also more likely to have higher morbidity at any given age. For example, women ages 65 and older have higher rates of disability and difficulty with activities of daily living compared to men.
  • Fewer financial resources. Women have lower lifetime earnings and are more likely to have career interruptions for family care responsibilities, so they likely have fewer financial resources available at older ages.
  • More likely to be widowed. Women who marry tend to have spouses who are older than they are, and they tend to outlive those spouses. Widowhood can contribute to financial insecurity and social isolation.
  • More caregiving responsibilities. At all ages, and in many parts of the world, women often act as primary caregivers within the family. As populations age, the demand for caregivers is also increasing. Caregiving can have both personal and economic consequences, whether it is paid or unpaid.

Women’s experiences in their older years are an accumulation of those they’ve had across their life course. For instance, health disparities in early childhood and disparities in employment and social protection in their early adult years all play out with respect to health and economic disparities at older ages. Policies and programs that consider the needs of women and girls at older ages may be most likely to provide effective support for aging populations.

By ensuring women have access to economic opportunities, countries with aging populations may slow the decline in their labor force by tapping into women who are currently not working and supporting their participation in employment. To learn more, watch this video from UNFPA Asia Pacific about a life-cycle approach to population aging or contact UNFPA Asia and the Pacific Regional Office.


A note on sources: All data are from PRB’s 2022 World Population Data Sheet and PRB analysis of the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Population Prospects 2022 Revision.



  1. The countries we included in the current analysis are those under the UNFPA’s Asia Pacific Regional Office: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Viet NamPacific Island Countries (Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu).